The Car is Not a Babysitter

baby sleeping in car seat

The wisdom of imposing a law in Utah that prohibits adults and parents from leaving young children alone in a car cannot be questioned. According to an article, the car is not a very safe place for children to stay, especially during this extremely hot summer. This is because the bodies of young children are not capable of dealing with heat or sweat like adults’. In fact, it was found out that on the average, 38 children die in hot cars each year from heat-related deaths.

You might be asking what particular age is the most vulnerable to vehicular heat stroke. According to reports, 87% of children who have died from vehicular heat stroke are ages three and younger.

What are the consequences of leaving young children alone in a parked car during winter or summer? The car has an oven-like characteristic that absorbs the heat from the surrounding area and retains it at a higher level. For example, 78 degrees outside temperature can become 100 degrees inside a car left parking in just three minutes. After six to eight minutes, the temperature can reach over 125 degrees. Likewise during winter, children left in cars can die from hypothermia. The article also emphasized that one 104 degrees is enough to cause serious symptoms of heat stroke, including dizziness, a rapid heartbeat, flushed skin and disorientation, among others. A 107-degree core temperature is lethal and begins a process that shuts down the body’s own organs.

So if you think that you will just quickly buy something from a convenience store or pharmacy, and will only take a couple of minutes, think again. You will not be able to control circumstances and time does quickly pass.

You might be asking why the temperature inside a parked car would rise that fast. This is explained by the heating dynamics of vehicles. The atmosphere and the windows of a car are relatively “transparent” to the sun’s shortwave radiation and are warmed little. However, this shortwave energy does heat objects that it strikes. For example, a dark dashboard or seat can easily reach temperatures in the range of 180 to over 200 degrees. In short, conduction and convection all contributed to the sudden rise of temperature inside a car since they give off long wave radiation which is very efficient at warming the air trapped inside a vehicle.

Violation of this Utah law gets offenders a Class C misdemeanor conviction if found guilty for at least the first offense instead of issuing charges of child abuse or neglect. SB 124, which narrowly passed through the Utah Legislature earlier this year, amends Utah’s Criminal Code and gives law enforcement options to deal with kids left alone in cars.

In an examination of media reports by Department of Geosciences, it was found that the 561 child vehicular heatstroke deaths for a thirteen year period (1998 through 2012) show the following circumstances:

  • 51% – child “forgotten” by caregiver (288 Children)
  • 29% – child playing in unattended vehicle (163)
  • 18% – child intentionally left in vehicle by adult (101)
  • 2% – circumstances unknown (9)

Is there a decrease in the occurrence of vehicular heat stroke deaths in the U.S.? Statistics for 2013 indicated that there are already 24 recorded deaths as compared with 33 deaths in 2012. From 1998-2013, the total deaths as a result of vehicular heat stroke has already reached 585. The average death per year since 1998 was recorded at 37 deaths.

Moreover, the Department of Geosciences issued these Safety Recommendations to help us reduce the number of fatalities. These are:

  1. Never leave a child unattended in a vehicle not even for a minute.
  2. If you see a child unattended in a parked vehicle, call 911 immediately.
  3. Be sure that all occupants leave the vehicle when unloading. Don’t overlook sleeping babies.
  4. Always lock your car and ensure children do not have access to keys or remote entry devices. IF A CHILD IS MISSING, ALWAYS CHECK THE POOL FIRST, AND THEN THE CAR, INCLUDING THE TRUNK. Teach your children that vehicles are never to be used as a play area.
  5. Keep a stuffed animal in the car seat and when the child is put in the seat place the animal in the front with the driver to serve as reminder that you are driving with a child.
  6. Or place your purse or briefcase in the back seat as a reminder that you have your child in the car.
  7. Make “look before you leave” a routine whenever you get out of the car.
  8. Have a plan that your childcare provider will call you if your child does not show up for school.

True enough one news article reported an incident whereby an adult left two children in the backseat with the engine running to pick up a pizza. The car was parked at Little Caesars, 805 S. 900 West, about 3:45 p.m.

Salt Lake City Police detective Mike Hamideh said that a 2-year-old and a 3-year-old were asleep in the back seat. While the woman was inside the store, a man took her car. The man was not aware that there are sleeping children in the back seat. Police authorities identified the man as Jeremy Ohm.

According to the report, an officer spotted Ohm near 250 South and 500 West, about 1.5 miles away, and signaled for him to stop. Hamideh said. Ohm did not attempt to flee, but he didn’t stop immediately.The report added that Ohm was taken into custody without incident, and the children were returned safely. There was no connection between Ohm and the mother. Ohm struck a car as he drove off in the stolen vehicle and will be investigated for a hit-and-run accident and vehicle theft and kidnapping, Hamideh said. Fortunately the relative was inside the store for a short time and left the engine running to keep the air conditioning on. Hamideh stated that she is less likely to face charges but the incident should serve as a lesson.

This illustrates that even if an adult has taken precautions such that the children will not suffer heat stroke, there are other forms of danger lurking in the corner. We have no way of knowing what could possibly happen when the child is out of our sight and worse if we forgot that we have left them inside a parked car.

Safe Kids Utah also provided other dire consequences of leaving young children in a car unattended. These are:

  • Children left unattended in a vehicle are at risk of being kidnapped.
  • Children left alone in a car can push buttons, disengage the brakes, put the car in gear or even leave the vehicle and walk away.

The busyness of parents and adults can sometimes make them forget the child. With the invention of safety airbags, children are relegated to the backseat and put in a rear facing seats especially the very young ones. “Out of sight, out of mind” has been sharply illustrated by momlogic in the following heart-breaking cases:

  1. August 21 – University professor Dr. Jodie Edwards, who has a doctorate in counselling, accidentally left her 11-month-old daughter in her car seat in the rear of her Honda Odyssey when she reported to work at about 8:30 AM. Baby Jenna was discovered by her mother when she left work at about 4:30 PM. When police responded to Edwards’ 911 call, they found the little girl dead in the car seat.
  2. An unidentified 3-year-old boy died after he was left in a locked car for more than 10 hours. A family member was supposed to drop the child off at daycare but forgot.
    She arrived at work at 7:30 AM, and did not discover her mistake until she pulled out at 5:45 PM and saw the boy’s lifeless body still strapped in his car seat.
  3. 4-month-old Seiaires McHenry of Wisconsin was found dead in an SUV outside a daycare center apparently left unattended by an employee of the center who picked him up that morning. He was left in the car for over seven hours.
  4. 19-month-old Kamilla Brown of Texas was left in her daycare van for six hours before she was discovered. State licensing officials later shut down that daycare center.
  5. 18-month-old Alyssa Stouffer of Michigan was left strapped in her car seat in the driveway of her home in near 90-degree temperatures. The father accidentally left the baby in the truck after running an errand. The baby wasn’t discovered until mother Laura Stouffer, 26, returned home from work late in the afternoon and couldn’t find her child.
  6. 2-year-old Chase Harrison of Virginia, who had been adopted from Russia just two months prior, was left in a car in front of his father’s workplace after the dad forgot to drop him off at daycare before work. He was trapped in the car for nine hours.
  7. 4-year-old Jason Rimer of Nevada, who had special needs, died when his family forgot him in a car after a family outing. He wasn’t discovered by his parents or seven siblings until the next morning. He was trapped in the sweltering vehicle for 17 hours.

Heartbreaks are becoming too common. It is hoped that the tragedy suffered by others will serve as reminders to other parents and adults that the car is not a babysitter and should be considered a deadly place for an unattended child.

Photo of public domain courtesy of  Pixabay.

 

Ken Christensen
Partner, Founder at Christensen & Hymas
Ken Christensen is the founding partner of Christensen & Hymas. He is an avid cyclist, loves baseball, and enjoys spending time with his family in the outdoors.

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